By Richard Winton and Kate Mather
Los Angeles Times
INGLEWOOD — A cellphone charger in a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy's pocket saved her from serious injury during a struggle in Inglewood early Tuesday when a parolee opened fire and the bullet glanced off the device. Authorities called it "miraculous."
The suspect, described as a 49-year-old parolee, was shot and killed but not before he fired again, grazing the deputy's partner in the hand, officials said. Both deputies were treated at area hospitals and released later in the day.
Sheriff Lee Baca said the deputy probably would have been seriously injured had the cellphone charger not deflected the bullet, sending it down her pant leg. It grazed her leg and went out her pants.
"I have heard of a lot of things stopping rounds, but nothing that small," sheriff's Lt. Mike Rosson said. "It is nothing short of a miracle."
The situation unfolded shortly after midnight as the deputies — passing through Inglewood while driving from one unincorporated area of the county to another — spotted a car with paper license plates and no registration stickers, Rosson said. The deputies initiated a traffic stop, and the driver pulled into a parking lot in the 3900 block of Century Boulevard.
The passenger immediately jumped out of the vehicle and made a beeline for the trunk, which he opened, Rosson said. The female deputy ordered him to stop and moved in to pat him down.
When the deputy discovered the man had a .40-caliber handgun in his waistband, the suspect resisted her, Rosson said. Her partner tried to secure the man from behind in "a bear hug," but the suspect was able to free one of his hands, grab his gun and fire.
The bullet hit the deputy in her right thigh but deflected off the charger.
The other deputy and suspect continued to struggle, with the suspect trying to fire his gun, Rosson said. The pair eventually dropped to the ground, he said, and the suspect managed to pull the trigger again. The bullet skimmed the male deputy's left hand. The deputy pushed away from the suspect and returned fire.
The initial investigation indicated both deputies fired several shots, Baca said.
The suspect was transported to an area hospital, where he later died.
"It was a life-and-death battle," Baca said. "It was split-second decision-making by the deputies that allowed them to survive."
Two other people in the car told investigators they knew the suspect only casually and had offered to give him a ride to the airport, authorities said. They were detained after the shooting but were believed to have no role in the incident.
The shooting itself was under review, which is standard protocol for fatal incidents involving law enforcement officers.
Baca called it an "extraordinary incident in terms of hand-to-hand combat with a suspect shooting his gun at deputies from close range." The fact that one of the bullets hit something as small as a cellphone charger was "pretty much miraculous", the sheriff said.
"Was it miraculous?" Rosson said. "Well, that shot could have gone anywhere. That USB charger may have saved her life."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 the Los Angeles Times